IKEA: the solution to all life’s problems

I woke up to the stench of particle board. IKEA has delivered my new life, compactly packaged and priced, to my new studio apartment rental in Washington, D.C., the day before.

Because some items worked out and some didn’t, I decided to visit the Swedish superstore again, all the way out in the Maryland suburbs. While leafing through the New Yorker on the train, I stumbled on an article about this very retailer, serendipitously titled “House Perfect: Is the IKEA ethos comfy or creepy?” 

The author, Lauren Collins, has moved eight times since graduating college in nearly as many years, making this Lego for adults an integral part of her coming of age experience. “IKEA can also be Swedish for feeling like you’re never going to grow up,” Collins writes. “The ease of self-invention that IKEA enables is liberating, but it can be sad to be able to make a life, or to dispose of it, so cheaply.”

I, too, have moved too much since graduating college, sometimes multiple times per year. I’ve welcomed IKEA into my homes on both coasts. The Billy bookcases

and Lack side tables

the empire’s most popular products, have always been there to hold my books, drinks and luggage. Anywhere I go, the familiar giant blue and yellow logo cajoles from the highway, beckoning to discard the debris of what has been and start anew, in one swipe of a credit card.

Each time I move, an IKEA trip feels like it’s the final time. Stay awhile and actualize. Put down your roots. If you build it, they will come, and then life will resemble a catalogue with blond Nordic people smiling from its pages. And the hammer flies faster, and the little hooked screwdriver turns a little easier.

Once at IKEA, I ate the obligatory meatballs. Then the $1 cinnamon roll. I hopped on the cart and rode around the warehouse floor for a bit, dodging shoppers and getting looks. I tried on the lifestyles of the showroom upstairs, as usual. So this birch bunk bed is probably what I’ll have when vacationing in Iceland with my future husband and children, as they eat pancakes and unwrap gifts from Jultomten, the Christmas man. This minimalist bar table with mood lighting and canvas linens is where I’ll serve assorted cheeses to friends as an established professional, and wine will flow from its corked bottles, not the screwtop kind, naturally. My furniture would be fancier, too, for the most part, arriving already assembled.

But this visit failed to elicit any previous enthusiasm. After all, I’ve put together countless Billy bookshelves. I’ve bought nearly ten $1 toilet brushes. I smiled back at dozens of stick figures in the assembly manuals. I’ve hammered hundreds of nails into various shelves and chests of drawers, only to discard them on curbs, sell them on Craigslist or bequeath them in a hurry to friends in San Francisco, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Manhattan. It’s like flunking math over and over again and being held back, instead of graduating up to Calculus with the age-appropriate cohort.

But here was the new home to assemble, and I had no choice, with the old one already gone. After returning from IKEA that night, I expertly drove the nails of my future into Rast. I tightened the screws into the headboard of Leirvik, dreaming of the adventures awaiting within these walls, pretending it’s never happened before. And the lingonberry jam and brightly colored $20 duvet cover sparkled back, pretending, too, it was the first time we’d met. And we kept on like this, until the carnivalesque tent of self-reinvention was pitched once again, filled with the hopes of a virginal bride and promises of a new dawn, naively exhilarating.

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